Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Why Obama's Christianity doesn't bother me

Jacques Berlinerblau's post, "Huckobama," on the god-blog might be an example of projected bigotry. Jacques Berlinerblau is some sort of program director and associate professor of Jewish Civilization and the author of "The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously" which sounds rather condescending. I'm not yet sure if he himself is one of those Jewish atheists or a believing Jew. But in this post he doesn't seem to know the difference between secularism and atheism, a common and dangerous confusion. He uses the terms "non-believer" and "Secular America" interchangeably.

First he writes:

Admit it, Secular America. If Mike Huckabee had said something like this on the campaign trail you’d be locking and loading faster than you could hum John Lennon’s lyric “Imagine all the people, Living life in peace”:

"And during the course of that sermon, I was introduced to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed and that if I placed my trust in Christ, He could set me on the path to eternal life."

Later he replaces Secular America with "nonbelievers and Church-State separatists" and wonders why:

These pious musings have not aroused as much as a peep of protest from nonbelievers and Church-State separatists. (Compare this to the former governor of Arkansas who enraged Secular America when he suggested that we amend the Constitution to God’s standards).

They don't compare. What Berlinerblau doesn't seem to grasp is that Obama is both a believer and a secularist. Believing in God, even in Jesus, doesn't preclude one from being a secularist and supporting separation of Church and state. And, in fact, because Obama has said other things we can know he is a secularist. For example, this speech, the "Call to Renewal Keynote Address":

... they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. That during our founding, it was not the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of this separation; it was the persecuted religious minorities, Baptists like John Leland, who were most concerned that any state-sponsored religion might hinder their ability to practice their faith.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians within our borders, who’s Christianity would we teach in the schools? James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Levitacus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage so radical that it’s doubtful that our Defense Department would survive its application?

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

That speech clearly defines Obama as a secularist if not a non-believer. And, yes, if Huckabee had said what Berlinerblau quoted from Obama then that would add to my negative feelings about Huckabee. That's because Huckabee also said:

"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

Claiming that the constitution must reflect God's standards is clearly the view of someone who doesn't even grasp the concept of separation of church and state much less believe in it.

This doesn't mean that I do not find some of what Obama says disturbing, but I find it disturbing as an atheist, not a secularist. Berlinerblau catches some of those Obama quotes:

And whenever I hear stories about Americans who feel like no one’s looking out for them, like they’ve been left behind, I’m reminded that God has a plan for his people. . . . But it’s a plan He’s left to us to fulfill.


I’d like to begin with a prayer. It comes to us from Jeremiah 29, when the prophet sent out a letter to those exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. It was a time of uncertainty, and a time of despair. But the prophet Jeremiah told them to banish their fear – that though they were scattered, and though they felt lost, God had not left them. “For I know the plans I have for you,” the Lord revealed to Jeremiah, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God had a plan for His people. That was the truth that Jeremiah grasped – the creed that brought comfort to the exiles – that faith is not just a pathway to personal redemption, but a force that can bind us together and lift us up as a community.

But even here my worries about Obama's sanity would be eased if some journalist would ask him this question: "You have said that you think God has a plan for his people and that it’s a plan He’s left to us to fulfill. Do you really know God's plans?"

If he answers "yes," then worry. If he answers "no," you can worry much less. Thinking you know God's plans is what makes Farrakhan, Hagee, Huckabee, Bush and bin Laden dangerous nutjobs.


KC said...


normdoering said...

I suspect it does have something to do with fundy Christians who don't like my blog, but they have an excuse, I published a picture containing "full frontal nudity" in my post:
I've recently had a short story published

Sean said...

I grew up in a UCC church (United Church of Christ)...heard a joke recently that claimed UCC stands for 'Unitarians Considering Christ'.

redbean said...

Thanks very much for this post. This really will help me at the polls--Obama's faith was the one thing standing in my way to supporting him. I really appreciate your help in clarifying what really matters on this issue.

Though it still sucks that he's at a megachurch. :/

normdoering said...

Thank you redbean for saying that here. It makes me feel like my blogging is worthwhile.